Atlas Twp. planners consider zoning limits on medical marijuana

ATLAS TWP. — Township residents will have the chance to share their views on proposed zoning requirements for medical marijuana operations.

The Atlas Township Planning Commission will have a public hearing when they assemble for their regular meeting in February. Residents interested in voicing their opinions should watch the township website for the posted time and date.

The issue on the table is whether the township should enact regulations to limit medical marijuana grows to certain zoning districts, such as industrial and/or agricultural.

At the heart of the matter is the concern that the grows not become a nuisance to neighbors in the more densely-populated, residentially-zoned areas of the township.

“Many municipalities have found that … while medical marijuana providers are not causing problems for surrounding properties on the scale of recreational producers or packaging facilities, they do cause disruption in areas where surrounding properties are in close proximity,” said township attorney David Lattie.

Those problems include odor, traffic and the makeshift enclosed structures used to house the plants, he said.

Commissioner J. Michael Rembor is in no hurry to amend the ordinance, particularly if the changes would limit the caregivers’ ability to provide a doctor-prescribed medication.

“I don’t think (a caregiver) can afford industrial property,” Rembor said. “How are they going to put a building on M-15 on industrial property to accomplish that, to provide a service to the people?”

He added that marijuana left unattended in a setting like that wouldn’t last very long.

“I think it’s a bit restrictive,” Rembor said. “I appreciate concerns of odor and traffic. But I really think it’s going to minimize opportunity for people to be a caregiver.”

Commission Chairman Jay Tenbrink agreed.

“I think requiring a manufacturing district might be viewed as a financial obstacle put in their way,” he said. “That’s expensive real estate.”

Both he and Rembor offered some support for allowing medical marijuana grows in agricultural areas as long as the operations meet requirements for setbacks from neighboring properties and do not become nuisances.

“I think you’d get the same protection but not open ourselves to potential challenges that we’re just trying to get around the law that made this legal,” Tenbrink said.

Of great concern to some commissioners is the impact on neighbors and their rights.

“If we’re looking at protecting people and protecting their rights, and giving them a good quality of life, keeping it in industrial areas protects more people than it hurts,” said Commissioner Patrick Major.

“How many medical marijuana (caregivers) are going to grow and make money off of it when anyone can get marijuana now? I don’t think we’re hurting the people who need the service. I’m a big proponent for medical marijuana.”

Major pointed out that if multiple caregivers live in the same home, the number of plants the state allows can be quite large.

Township planner Adam Young added that if a property owner leases space to multiple caregivers, there also is the potential for a very large operation.

Young said the purpose of the proposed zoning amendment is just to minimize the potential secondary impacts.

The zoning discussion comes on the heels of a new ordinance requiring all medical marijuana caregivers apply to for a permit from the township. The application process includes proof that caregivers are within the limit for number of plants, and that their patients are properly certified with the state to receive medical marijuana.

“One of the good things with having that application process in place is, if someone doesn’t register, we can argue that, when we put the zoning regulations in place, they weren’t in compliance with the application ordinance,” Lattie said.

Caregivers who fail to register are subject to a municipal civil infraction which can include fines of $250 to $1,000 and additional costs, and court-ordered compliance or cease-and-desist orders.

Lattie said he knows there have been inquiries about the new ordinance, but he is not aware of any recreational or large-scale medical marijuana grows in the township at this time.

He said the application ordinance and proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance only affect medical marijuana, and do not limit the rights of adult residents to grow up to 12 plants for their own personal use.